Belleville Mass marks 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination

News-DemocratNovember 20, 2013 

Bishop Edward K. Braxton in a BND file photo from May, 2013.

DERIK HOLTMANN — dholtmann@bnd.com

A metro-east Mass for the repose of the soul of President John F. Kennedy will be offered midday Friday to mark the 50th anniversary of the president's assassination.

The Mass will begin at 12:10 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville.

The service will be going on at the exact moment of the anniversary, 12:30 p.m.

The public is invited to attend, according to Cathedral rector Monsignor John Myler, who will be celebrating the Mass.

"The Mass is offered -- not for saints, but for sinners," Myler said. "Mrs. Kennedy said to the priest who administered the Last Rites to the president: 'Thank you, Father,' and quickly added, 'Please pray for the president.'"

Kennedy was the first and only Catholic to hold the office of U.S. President.

For that reason, many Catholics felt a close connection to the president, making the assassination all the more distressing.

In a reflection by the Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, Bishop of Belleville, he said: "When he was elected in 1960, many Americans were surprised that a Catholic could be elected in a country where there was a considerable anti-Catholic bias, including an unfounded fear that a Catholic president's judgments and policies might be somehow controlled by the Holy See. Catholics were generally proud that a member of the Church had been chosen to lead the country at a critical juncture."

Kennedy has more than one connection to the metro-east: In October 1960 he visited Belleville shortly before he was elected president.

Also, Bishop Albert Zuroweste, the leader of Diocese of Belleville in 1963, offered a Requiem Mass in Rome for the repose of the soul of the president, Myler said.

That fall, Zuroweste was in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. On that Friday evening (Rome time) of the assassination, Zuroweste was at dinner with a group of U.S. bishops, according to Myler.

An Italian woman seated at the next table came over and said, "You are all Americans, aren't you? I just heard on the car radio that your President Kennedy has been shot," Myler said.

The bishops left the restaurant in silence. By the time they returned to their rooms, news reports said that Kennedy had died.

The music for Friday's Mass at Cathedral was selected by organist Dennis York. He said he included three songs that were performed at Kennedy's 1963 funeral Mass in Washington: "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," also known as "The Navy Hymn"; "Pie Jesu"; and "Ave Maria."

The tradition of offering Masses for the dead originated in the very early Church and was seen in inscriptions discovered on tombs in Roman catacombs, Myler said.

And it's still important to pray for the president, he continued.

"Many people remember where they were, what they were doing, how they first heard of the shooting of the president," Myler said. "Even five decades later, memories are alive and the shock and sadness still with many people. We should not forget to pray for this president -- who was an imperfect sinner like the rest of us."

Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at mhasenstab@bnd.com or 618-239-2460.

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